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January 24, 2016 7:01 am

The Disgrace of Associating Toni Morrison With Primo Levi

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Email a copy of "The Disgrace of Associating Toni Morrison With Primo Levi" to a friend
Toni Morrison. Photo: Angela Radulescu.

Toni Morrison. Photo: Angela Radulescu via Wiki Commons.

A side benefit of reviewing books is that I often get books I otherwise might not splurge on. A week ago, I received the handsome three-volume set of the collected writings of Primo Levi, Italian survivor of Auschwitz. The set is edited by arguably his best translator, Ann Goldstein, and published by Liveright. I will write a thorough and conscientious book review in due course.

But I am writing this blog post in protest at the inexplicable and offensive fact that the publishers asked the American novelist Toni Morrison to write an introduction. Of all people, they had to choose such an outspoken and biased critic of Israel. Why invite a person who shows such animus towards the homeland of the Jewish people to write an introduction to the work of a man who suffered under a real genocidal regime determined to destroy him simply for being Jewish, given that, for all his criticisms and alienation, Levi remained an avowed Jew?

It’s not just the banality of her introduction, her cold words, her use of “throngs” to describe — impersonally — those who died. She cannot bring herself to mention Jews. She stands for poisonous revisionism. She, together with her partners in prejudice, have accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and genocide. Inevitably this leads to comparisons with Nazis. Which is precisely what the primitive, mentally challenged bullies who use such an abusive slogan in protests love to do. If any of that were true, how come after 65 years of Israel’s existence the Arab population of Israel continues to grow and thrive? Why haven’t they all been gassed? And why are denizens of the Occupied Territories and Gaza still expanding in number?

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Why have they not all been killed or expelled? Are the Israelis so incompetent? 
It seems that Morrison was contacted and asked to consider the invitation because Primo Levi was a left-wing secular Jew who criticized the State of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and disliked the, albeit democratically elected, right-wing governments (criticisms I too would agree with, incidentally). The presumably liberal, left-wing publishers thought her stamp of approval on this edition would attract like-minded readers and librarians. But that does not put Primo Levi and Toni Morrison on the same moral page.

No one should dispute that millions of non-Jews also suffered and died in World War II, and they should be remembered as well. Similarly, no one has the right to minimize the horrors of slavery imposed by black and white, Christian, Jew, and Muslim in the African slave trade — or the continuation of slavery to this very day. And today we still witness gratuitous killing, ethnic cleansing, torture, rape, and expulsion. Suffering continues to be imposed or tolerated today by many states that are either incompetent or venal.

But the one thing it is not possible to do is to make an equivalence to the Holocaust, because the unique feature was a stated and activated policy of extermination. The Nazis brought all the resources of a modern state to exterminate a people simply because they hated Jews, not for what they might have done but for who they were. Prejudice, hatred, irrational as they are, are of one despicable order. Systematic extermination is another. In other situations where one was attacked or invaded, one could escape a final solution by resignation, capitulation, or conversion. Here there was nothing one could have done. No one else has built industrial extermination camps.

The pathology of much of the world we inhabit is its politically correct knee-jerk accusation of Israel for its imperialism, capitalism, racism, sexism, slavery, and fanaticism. Those who seek to destroy it are even more guilty of those very crimes. But politically correct radicals may not say so. And Morrison falls for it like a sucker. Never mind that unlike imperialism, Jews have had a longer history of indigenous association with the land of Israel than any other religious or ethnic group. Never mind the refusals to accept compromise and the stated commitment to destroy it. Dogma has always trumped the facts — politically and religiously.

The anti-Israel Left everywhere is guilty of revisionism, of trying to sanitize the Holocaust by equivalence. They want to disinfect it of any Jewish content so as not to offend anti-Jewish prejudice today. They shift the debate by using words to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians dishonestly and inaccuracies. Anyone who experienced Apartheid, or Nazism knows it is despicably wrong and ignorant to apply them to Israel even at its worst. But lies have never got in the way of political debate. Egypt has a border with Gaza but I have seen no flotillas against Egyptian authority. However much I do indeed deplore and regret the conflict, one should not obscure the fact that much of this tragedy is the result of the victims’ own intransigence and belief that if they just hang in there, the world and time will impose a far better solution for them than compromise.

The US has always had voices sympathetic to Jews, like Martin Luther King. It also has had its hate-mongers, like Louis Farrakhan. Morrison has chosen the wrong side. Maybe she has retracted the scandalous lies she attached her signature to, though I have seen no evidence of it. I respect her right to her views. But to invite her to write an introduction to the work of Primo Levi is simply unacceptable.

That is why I urge you not to buy this particular set of books. Instead, do please read Primo Levi, but in other editions. Boycotts, which Morrison supports, can go both ways.

Check out my newest books, including Can We Talk About Religion at my author page on Amazon.com.

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  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Perhaps this Nobel Prize laureate should travel to Israel, spend some time there, associate with the people, and receive her own impressions from upfront observation, interaction, and actual peripatetic internalisation of the real Israel, not tat one reads about in the media, or discusses with others who have never experienced her, or gathers some eidolon via hearsay. Like the “Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams, and “The Life of Lincoln West,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, the real Israel, the democratic state and Jewish homeland, needs to be experienced first hand in the land itself with the people actually living there before a true judgement can be formulated. Rabbi, your take on this introduction written by Laureate Toni Morrison is spot on. If she decides to make the trip, I hope that she travels and tours with Alice Walker so that the two of them–two American literary stars–can compare notes and, perhaps, with an open mind, attain a new realisation that the Jews living in Israel are not partaking in apartheid, do not perpetuate a military state, and make every attempt to openly debate the state of affairs in the country as if their lives depend on it, which they very literally do.

  • Estee Nir

    She is just another ignorant uneducated person!
    No respect for her!!

  • Spread this as wide and far as you can, twitter, facebook, friends, book clubs…

    Decent people, Jewish or not, MUST fight Jew hatred !

  • George Rosenbaum

    Itis tragic that a literary artist such as Tony Morrison is so vulnerable to deception. She ignores present day slavery in numerous places and focuses on defining Israel as oppressors with language that far excceeds association with slave master, but association with exterminators.

    Very chilling because after all the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt for longer than America exists. Are liberated slaves destined to be slave masters, rather than a free and productive society?

  • Haim

    Respect her right to her views?! What the hell is there to respect?

  • reevin stein

    toni morrison & niki giovani, black ‘beatnik’ friends of allen ginsberg in 1950s were as hard anti-semites as leroi jones, asnother friend of ginsberg. the whole beatnik experience overlooked negro anti-semitism.

  • Myron Slater

    The publisher of this book is insensitive to the writer’s feelings, by having this woman write an introduction to the book. The writer has gone through a lot in his life; a Holocaust survivor.

  • Francis Figliola

    “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” – Sir Walter Scott, 1808

  • Harold Zvi Slutzkin

    A magnificent analysis of spiteful and dangerous propaganda issued by would-be architects of public opinion, either based on ignorance or prejudice, a piece worthy of your father, the late unforgettable Rabbi Kopul Rosen

  • Ephraim

    Here here!

  • marta mikey frid

    And who are the most virulent Revisionists if not the Jews? And, who was Matthew, the infamous Gospel writer if not a Jew? And who was Torquemada if not a Jew? Who coined the word and theory of anti-Semitism if not a Jew? How many of these ‘nice’ Jews are still been paid for poisoning the minds of the Israeli students in the Israeli Universities? And how many of the nice NGO against the State of Israel are Jews, and Israelis? How many of our ‘nice Rabbis’ are voicing their hatred against the State Of Israel? May be they should have asked a Meretz member, or the likes of Gideon Levy, to write the introduction for the world to know what Judeophobia is really all about.

  • Lia

    Thank you, Mr Rosen!

  • tiki

    It is totally beyond my comprehension how any holocaust survivor would be left-wing. Unless of course he has replaced his religious observance with a different religion, Liberalism. HaShem Ya’azor!
    Liberalism is a Mental Disorder is a book I would refer any liberal to read to reconsider their errant ways.

  • Pinchas Baram

    an excellent essay by Rabbi Rosen.

    it is a model for countering anti-Israel propaganda. CAMERA, StandWithUs, Honestreporting.com, Hillel, etc., should use and disseminate it!

  • Michael Garfinkel

    The publishers believed that the writings of the great Primo Levy required the imprimatur of a second-rate writer of questionable character and judgement; a woman who gives every indication of being anti-Semitic.

    In so doing, they have provided another example of a world view that is not only comfortable with, but embraces a contemptible moral inversion.

  • Pierrette Winter

    Duly noted and will NOT buy them. Personally, I consider Toni Morrison a very mediocre writer and I abhor her antisemitic views.

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